Every summer, the streets of America are lined with people of all ages gathered to celebrate a day of freedom, equality and liberation known as Juneteenth. Originating in the state of Texas, Juneteenth is deemed the oldest-known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
In honor of this historic holiday celebrating African-American freedom, Weber State University took part in hosting this year’s Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival.
“For me, (Juneteenth) is my Independence Day. For a lot of people, it’s the Fourth of July, but for black people, especially in America, it’s our day of independence and we love celebrating that,” festival attendee, Kamari Smalls said. She, like many others, indicated the significance that Juneteenth has on both a national and personal level.
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln changed the Civil War from being fought to bring the South back into a moral fight against slavery. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was a symbol of hope for many slaves.
Following the end of the Civil War, federal troops finally arrived on Texas soil on June 19, 1865, to conclude the practice of slavery once and for all.
“Africans and slaves in Texas didn’t find out that they had been freed until 2 years after, which caused slavery to continue,” said Redd Sawyer, brother of Weber State University’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Betty Sawyer. “So, we celebrate this day every year all around the United States.”
Recognized in forty-five states, Juneteenth has expanded from a predominantly southern holiday to a nationwide celebration. Guest speakers and prayer congregations are held with a focus on education and self-improvement, in honor of the traditional ways that Juneteenth was celebrated in the past.
In observance of modern African-American culture, many states also hold annual festivals and activities such as rodeos, barbecues and baseball games.
This month, Ogden and surrounding areas have been home to several of Utah’s Juneteenth celebratory events.
Weber’s Juneteenth event occurred on June 16. Attendees gathered at the Ogden Union Station to celebrate racial harmony in a series of live musical acts, storytelling, interactive games, dance performances, genealogy workshops and much more. With a wide range of artists and activities, the festival brought a large, diverse crowd filled with individuals coming together to appreciate a day of liberty.
“I just like the history and I love being able to see all these people coming out and enjoying themselves,” Sawyer said.
The festival will continue until June 20, with events taking place on the holiday itself and concluding the following night.
On June 19, there will be a health screening provided by the Calvary Baptist Church along with information about community resources from 4 to 6 p.m. Following the screenings, Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir, the Calvary Baptist Church Youth Choir and Praise Dancers will conduct a recognition program and cultural celebration.
The celebration’s final event will take place on June 20 with a film screening of “Tell Them We Are Rising” at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden. After the film, professionals who have all attended or graduated from historically black colleges and universities will administer a discussion panel.
All Juneteenth events are free admission and are open to anyone in the community.